"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

19 November 2007

Not counting the cost

by Ben

I read Isaiah 40-42.

I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship." I'm only into the second chapter and I am left nearly speechless at the way that he describes life in Christ. It is a very humbling experience, as he makes sure to explain the difference between cheap grace and grace that comes at a cost. Citing the stories of the rich young man (Matt. 19) and the testing lawyer (Luke 10), Bonhoeffer makes the point clear about what we as followers of Christ must do in our own lives. We must be willing to give up everything.

Someone once told me the definition of "repent" went much further than asking for forgiveness, as many feel it means today. Instead, they suggested that in older meanings of the word, it meant to do a full about face and to run away from what you were doing. Thus, repentance of a sin would be to actively work against that sin.

Bonhoeffer goes on to talk about a two-part statement in relation to faith:

Only those who believe obey and only those who obey believe.

This statement seems to relate to all who come into contact with the message of the Gospel. For those who have trouble believing, the have only to step out in faith (obedience). For those who have trouble obeying, they must search their beliefs.

Obviously, easier said than done. But this gives us a framework within which to attempt to live out our lives. Yet, it does not put restraints on our faith.

Christ called the disciples, saying, "Follow me." We don't get the psychological background that went into their decision-making process. We don't get whether they had ever heard of Jesus before and went based on his reputation. We just get that they went. They obeyed. That is, they obeyed before they had belief.

Imagine how easy it would have been for them as good Jews to merely sit back in their differing professions and wait for the Almighty to come and make the world right. How easy it would have been to say no. Yet, because they said yes to Christ, they grew in their belief. This pattern is still at work today. I've seen it in my own life. In choosing to work in the church, I have learned more about the call of Christ than I ever could have following my choice in career.

Yet, the other way around works too. As Christians, we are not only called to obey, but we are also called to believe. And belief can lead to obedience. In fact, it must or we become stagnant in our faith. We begin to accept and promote what Bonhoeffer calls "cheap grace." This is accepting Christ's sacrifice as sanctification for our sins, but does not require us to do anything. We cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of the world, which is to have an egocentric view that does not require personal sacrifice.

We must daily take up our cross. We must daily consider God's call on our lives. We must determine what it means for us to sell all of our possessions and give the money to the poor. But in the end, we must follow Christ. Whatever you must sacrifice, sacrifice it so that you may follow Him.

14 November 2007

Warning: A Rant

by Ben

I read Isaiah 36-39.

This section recounts the story of Hezekiah vs. Assyria and the postponed death of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah, although grieving at the oncoming attack from the Assyrians (reported in a letter), takes time to pray to God. In fact, he puts the letter out in front of God and prays the following:

"God-of-the-Angel-Armies, enthroned over the cherubim-angels, you are God, the only God there is, God of all kingdoms on earth. You made heaven and earth. Listen, O God, and hear. Look, O God, and see. Mark all these words of Sennacherib that he sent to mock the living God. It's quite true, O God, that the kings of Assyria have devastated all the nations and their lands. They've thrown their gods into the trash and burned them - no great achievement since they were no-gods anyway, gods made in workshops, carved from wood and chiseled from rock. An end to the no-gods! But now step in, O God, our God. Save us from him. Let all the kingdoms of earth know that you and you alone are God" (Isaiah 37:15-20).

This prayer has much value even today. I was watching NOVA last night on PBS. The program was about the much debated trial of Intelligent Design vs. Evolution of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District. The verdict of the trial was that ID is not a science and would never be taught in Dover schools. Although I agree with the decision in that the school board handled the whole situation poorly, I think it is a benefit that the discussion happened at all. It made people face the issue of how we educate our children. Mind you, it created much tension, even between family members, that still continues today. However, I think that is part of both good science and good faith.

We have to question beliefs, otherwise we don't grow. I don't know the ultimate truth of how humans came to be. I believe in the Bible, yet I believe that we can learn a lot through methodical observation of the world around us. I think that evolution should be taught in schools, but I also think that other ideas should be taught as well. I don't think that just because something cannot be tested by current methods means that it should be thrown out as an option. That's not good science. Testing and observation are part of the scientific method and should not be given up on so easily. Maybe there are other ways to test if there was a creator. I leave that to greater minds to ponder about.

This still leaves the question of what to teach our students. In science class, let us teach science, but I fear that we do our children a disservice by not trusting that they can study differing ideas and make their own decisions. Why do we teach any of what we teach in public education? What is the purpose of education? And what is the function of education? This article gives some suggestions as to both of these.

What if instead of teaching our children facts, we taught them how to think? Would they be able to make their own minds up about the origin of the species, God, and everything else?

Look back at the prayer above: how would you apply this prayer in relation to education and what we teach?

A note: I studied to be a public educator, but now I currently serve as a youth advisor for a church in northeast Ohio. I believe that providing public education is important, but I think we need to reconsider what we teach based upon what our purpose for education is and for any functions that come as a result of that public education. I do not think that science and religion have to be at odds, nor do I think that anybody has everything figured out.

06 November 2007

cut to the heart

ch. 2
v. 37

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

it struck me today while reading this who Peter was talking to and why he used the words that he did. vs. 5-13 clearly set up Jews as his audience. yes, they were from all over, but they were also all Jews. in his following "sermonette," Peter quotes Old Testament prophecies three different times at length. maybe Paul wasn't being all that original when he said he would be all things to all men. Peter's words, inspired by the Holy Spirit are so right on the mark that, though he's ultimately accusing those he's speaking to of horrible acts, they are "cut to the heart" and respond in repentance and turning toward God. Over 3000.

God, give me the words to speak to those who need to hear them. and give me the ears to hear your words spoken to me.

05 November 2007


ch. 1
v. 14

They all joined together constantly in prayer...

i wonder what this must have looked like. i don't think prayer then looked much like prayer today. we've had centuries and centuries of practice at over analyzing and inserting rules into our practices of prayer. the most obvious instruction on prayer by Christ, the Lord's Prayer, certainly seems to not be able to last for much longer than a few minutes. so what does it mean that they joined together "constantly" in prayer? what did these prayers sound like, feel like, consist of? what were they praying about anyway...what to do next?

ben, in his last post, talked about calling and how we sense the Spirit's leading. this is something that, honestly, has confused me for the last several years. i used to have a very dogmatic way of approaching life decisions. i just ran it through a series of tests and then i knew it was God approved. however, somewhere along the way, i started running decisions through my systematic doctrine of calling and what i sensed to be the outcome and what life ended up deciding became two separate stories. this didn't align with my understanding at all.

v. 24-26
Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, so he was added to the eleven apostles.

it struck me today while i was reading this chapter for the fourth time that possibly something more significant than the casting of lots would be used to determine the identity of the twelth apostle. i mean, we're talking about a group of people that would only exist as a group of 12 among the billions of people that have existed throughout history. about a group of people who played a gigantic role in the spreading of the Gospel and the establishing of the church. and it came down to chance? but not just chance. chance redeemed by prayer?

maybe...just maybe we approach calling in a far too modern sense. God has a specific plan. my life is a map. for every choice there's a right and a wrong. maybe God is much more fluid than that. maybe it's more about his character than about a specific will. maybe. i'm not sure i want to believe that because it's quite a bit scarier. i'd prefer that he emblazen my next move in the clouds every day.

tomorrow i think i'm finally moving onto chapter two.

02 November 2007

A Calling

by Ben

I'm not writing about Scripture today (sorry). Instead, I will attempt to try to give words to a feeling that I am experiencing. Some have called it a "calling" - I want to distinguish between what I am feeling and the sense of my own desire. My wants have little to do with this experience.

I feel that I should be going to seminary. That is my next step. I was talking about this feeling in a conversation today and I realized that the whole thing is backwards from the way that I've run my life. Traditionally, I would discern a goal and then figure out how to get there.

For example, in 8th grade, I knew that I wanted to be an English teacher and drama director, so I focused my attention on how to do that, and sought a degree at college that would allow me to teach.

However, along the way, I was offered the job at the church. Uncharacteristically, I took the job, having never intended to work in a church setting (and really only being a marginal Christian at the time). I can only say that God wanted my attention. It was because of being involved in Christian education that I have grown in my faith.

I must say here that the decision to work at a church, when I was assured my dream job at a school district in Cleveland was a difficult one. I still can't fully explain the feeling I had at the time. (I have since felt great joy due to this choice, but that is not the point of this story).

I again am having that same feeling. I feel that I should go to seminary. I don't yet know what that means. I don't really have the desire right now to become a senior pastor, but who knows. Again, my wants aren't really leading this adventure. So, for now, I must follow this feeling, wherever it leads. I pray that I am following God's will.

01 November 2007

dueling kingdoms

He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God...

...So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

the kingdom of God seems to be a pretty central theme of Christ's ministry. the term shows up 51 times in the Gospels and another six times in Acts, besides a handful of times in the rest of the New Testament. apparently it's something that Christ, and his followers, are fairly keen on.

i was struck though by the proximity of two kingdoms in chapter 1. first, in verse three, Luke tells us that Christ's primary task after resurrecting was speaking of the kingdom of God. and then, just a handful of verses later in verse six his disciples ask if he is now going to restore the kingdom of Israel.

God's concerned with establishing himself. we're concerned with establishing ourselves. hereing lies the rub. as subjects, as creation, as children of God, we forget our primary life of being all about the One to whom we're subject, who created us, who Father's us.

i struggle with this. i want my own "kingdom" established and the sooner the better. i want God to serve my most recent wishes, to do what i want. and it's not that he's bent on making me miserable. his kingdom isn't about making us doing the things we want to the least. in fact, i'm more and more prone to leave that our desires and God's kingdom line up more often than not. but i think a lot of it has to do with the order in which they're pursued.

i think it's scary that God used people that were so messed up to spread who he was to the rest of the world. one minute they're asking this ill-aimed question that's all about power and authority and them getting what they want. and the next minute Christ is gone and they're all standing around dumbfounded.

i also think it's that God uses people that are so messed up to spread who he is to the rest of the world. one minute i'm bent on my personal dreams. and the next i'm dumbfounded by seeing Christ at work in the world around me. at work through me and despite me.